By Leesi Ebenezer Mitee
Like most developing countries, Nigeria lacks adequate public access to every aspect of legal information. That was the indisputable finding of my Master of Laws (LLM) dissertation at the University of Huddersfield (United Kingdom) titled, “Public Access to Legislation and Its Inherent Human Rights: A Comparative Study of the United Kingdom and Nigeria.”
The cost of access to legislation is prohibitive in Nigeria. Beyond the few pieces of legislation on the National Assembly website, there is no official online legislation database in the country and no public depository library programme where members of the public may access legislation free of charge. The result is that Nigerians must buy statute books and every copy of the Official Gazette containing legislation in order to know the laws in existence.
My dissertation (and personal experience as a lecturer and lawyer in Nigeria) revealed that most Nigerian lawyers cannot afford the high cost of buying statute books (the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria or those of the different thirty-six States)! If it is so with lawyers, one does not need Solomonic wisdom to know the utter plight of Nigerian citizens with regard to acquiring access to enacted laws.
In my dissertation, I identified and proposed public access to legislation as a category of human rights in accordance with Articles 6(c) and 7 of the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1999. The doctrine that ignorance of the law is no excuse (because everybody is presumed to know the law) places a parallel duty on every Government to provide adequate public access (timely, comprehensive, and free of charge) to all legal rules and regulations in its jurisdiction. This is necessary because access to legislation is a major determinant of access to justice.
The three-point Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law 2002 (amended in 2003) made by Legal Information Institutes (participants in the Free Access to Law Movement) is a major expression of this philosophy. It states:
- Public legal information from all countries and international institutions is part of the common heritage of humanity. Maximising access to this information promotes justice and the rule of law;
- Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;
- Independent non-profit organisations have the right to publish public legal information and the government bodies that create or control that information should provide access to it so that it can be published.
In order to solve the perennial problem of lack of public access to legislation in Nigeria, there are two indispensable requirements that must be fulfilled:
- the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (federal legislation for the whole country);
- and the complete abrogation of government copyright in legislation (necessitating repeal of the offending provisions of the Nigerian Copyright Act 1988).
The right of access to public information is the parent right of public access to legislation, because legislation is an integral component of public information. Regrettably, it took an unbelievably long time for the Nigerian Freedom of Information Bill, whichwas introduced to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly in 1999, to be enacted into law. The unenviable story behind the Bill is akin to the story of a series of aborted pregnancies. There was no political will to enact it, and it never saw the light of day, despite spirited campaigns by numerous non-governmental organisations, pro-democracy groups, and media associations within and outside Nigeria. Finally, the Nigerian National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) passed the Bill, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan assented to it, whereupon it became the Nigerian Freedom of Information Act 2011. Oh, what a day of rejoicing that was!
The enactment of the Nigerian Freedom of Information Act 2011 should, naturally, pave the way for abrogation of government copyright in government publications, including legislation. But that can only happen if there is the political will to embrace the philosophy behind freedom of information. It is hereby recommended that government copyright in legislation at all the three levels of law-making (Federal, State, and Local Government) be abrogated forthwith to usher in the necessary mechanics for public access to legislation in Nigeria.
Copyright © Leesi Ebenezer Mitee
Do you envision a world where organizations, companies, schools, and people who want to create change are connected with one another? Do you sometimes wonder why there are so many people with the intent to do good, but these ideas don't often come to fruition? Do you want to make it easy and accessible for changes to happen in society? Do you want to take action and help create a local and global network of collaboration?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then please join Idealist.org on March 11th for the start of something big!
On March 11th, founder and Executive Director of Idealist, Ami Dar, will be holding an online presentation laying out the plans for a new and innovative network. He is working towards an online space, which shares the mission and inspiration of Kabissa and its members, that moves directly to offline action. He believes the two go hand-in-hand, yet there are challenges stopping this from happening:
These three challenges are:
As Kabissa members, you probably know and understand these challenges on a very personal level, and are already engaged in many different ways to overcome them. Ami and Idealist.org need people like you to join together and make these changes happen! This is an invitation for practical dreamers - we cannot do it alone.
Please join us on March 11th for a live presentation, and learn how you can become part of this amazing movement to connect the dots and create a world where intentions lead directly to action, our problems and ourselves are connected, and great ideas spread as quickly as they are thought up.
There will be two live presentations, one at noon EST and one at 11pm EST. Simply visit http://www.idealist.org/March11 to sign up!
Hope to see many of you there with me!
Can you mix your artistic talent with your passion for ICT4D? Prove it by taking part in the eLearning Africa “Through your Lens” Photo Contest, now officially launched!
Find out more about this year’s theme and submit your snapshot right here: http://on.fb.me/1dC4bKk
The deadline’s in two months, so you’ve got plenty of time to produce the perfect shot!
May the best ones win!
Welcome to our new weekly feature: “The Uganda News Review”! Each week we’ll scan the Ugandan and global press for fresh insights into Uganda’s thriving eLearning scene, bringing you a diverse selection of reports on recent developments, education, ICT and everything in between. Have a look at the first episode right here: http://www.elearning-africa.com/eLA_Newsportal/fresh-in-from-kampala/
Are you involved in ICT for Education in Africa? As a Teacher? A Planner?